Why can’t you leave?
Many people find themselves in unhappy relationships but just cannot seem to leave. Perhaps you are in this situation; you have discussed it with friends, are having an affair and have been thinking about it for a year or more. However, it is not uncommon to just not be able to bring yourself to do it. You spend days, months and then years torturing yourself over this decision. So what is stopping you leaving your marriage?
We are going to explore the reasons and emotions preventing you from moving on and keeping you trapped in an unhappy marriage.
Fear is holding you back
You are likely to have avoided taking the decision due to a range of fears:
- losing your children
- not coping
- having insufficient money
- losing friends/family/community
- being alone
- others judging you
- hurting someone you care about
- facing uncertainty
Some fear is useful, it makes you to assess the situation and plan for any eventualities. However, the fear is less useful when you have made up your mind but you cannot move forward.
Fear of uncertainty is also powerful, as it makes us all feel a loss of control. People often hope that they will find an answer which makes clear what to do. They will run dilemmas past friends, or search the internet for articles such as this one, hoping for a certain answer . At the end of the day, they always feel unsatisfied as there is no easy solution.
Stuck in the catastrophe?
As the fear takes hold, we can become unrealistically catastrophic in our thinking. We might begin fantasising about being outcast, being totally miserable and eventually dying alone and penniless. The problem with this is that: (a) this is unlikely; and (b) you can fix things with time and patience.
So back to the worse case scenario of dying lonely and penniless……the truth is that you might struggle with money, and some people might be angry with you. But others will remain your friend, and you will find ways to adapt to your financial situation. Even if you do make a mistake, this does not mean you cannot rectify it with time.
The reason you are considering leaving this marriage is because you are unhappy. Improvements in life satisfactions will require change. You will need to decide whether it will be easier to do it away from the marriage. If someone is restricting your freedom, or undermining your efforts, change might only be possible as a singleton.
So reassure yourself by considering what is the worst that might realistically happen? Is there a way you could you deal with this?
Will change be easier outside of the marriage?
Regret – Want to avoid responsibility for the years wasted
Are you someone who thinks that leaving now, will mean that the last 10 (or however many) years of the relationship will be wasted. On this basis, for every day you stay, leaving will get harder.
One way to look at this more helpfully, is that staying in a situation in which you have invested a lot in is normal. It has been shown that loss aversion is one of the most consistent human traits. Loss aversion makes people stay in jobs they don’t like, or stick to bad investments (or put even more money into them!), in the hope that they will not lose, and that something will work itself out. It is extremely hard to lose and have to admit you have made a mistake.
So consider whether it time to cut your losses?
Guilt – Have I tried hard enough?
Many people feel guilty about leaving and wonder if they have tried hard enough. This leads to getting caught in an endless loop of, trying “just one more time or just one more year”.
These 3 considerations might help you get out of the trap:
- Am I unhappy due to my marriage or due to something else? For example, if you are also unhappy due to not liking your job, are you blaming your marriage unfairly? If you were to make other changes, would you still want to leave? If the answer is “yes”, then you have your answer.
2. Am I being prevented from making changes due to your partner? If you would like to improve communication, live your life differently, change jobs, but your partner will not support this, then you will remain unhappy for the foreseeable future. If you have not already tried, then tell your partner what you need (e.g. go out more, see more friends and have more sex). Make sure that you check what your partner wants too. If they are saying yes just to keep you, then they will become unhappy with change. After you have made the changes to your life, see whether this leads to an improvement in your marriage. You both need to be true to yourselves for this to work.
3. Have I ever really enjoyed being with my partner? Can you not stand them, possibly you struggle to remember times you ever really enjoyed? It is surprisingly common that we marry people we do not actually enjoy being with, as we feel they would make a good father/mother, they are “nice”, your family like them etc. If this is the case, you do not need to ponder too long.
Putting off the pain
It is the most normal thing in the world to want to avoid feeling and causing pain. This means that you will find all kinds of reasons to delay your decision to leave, “I will wait until they finish school, until they have this interview, until their mother is better”…..Waiting for the perfect time is a dangerous game as this very rarely happens.
If you do leave, you will face a difficult time, and it will be messy for you and several people around you. Even if we can reduce and manage the pain and chaos, there is absolutely no way to eliminate it totally. However, if you can accept it while moving towards your own life values, then the distress will eventually make space for more and more happiness.
The 2 choices you are actually facing
Once you have thought about what fears are holding you back (and I am sure this has been on repeat in your mind), you only really have 2 choices:
OPTION 1: Stay in a relationship which is not making you happy and is unfulfilling. You may know deep inside, that one day you will regret not having been true to yourself. On the upside, you avoid the uncertainty, the upheaval and the pain is less intense over the short term.
OPTION2: Leave the relationship and immediately face an enormous amount of turmoil, uncertainty and pain. BUT you have the opportunity, for increased happiness.
BOTH options are stressful and both involve pain.
You are responsible for living your life and making your choices
People often convince themselves that they are trapped by their obligations and commitments; they cannot afford to divorce, that they cannot expect their partner to change, or that their family will not be able to cope. If you are in this bind, then others have become responsible for your life and you will feel trapped. I have heard it described as making circumstances the jail and other people the jailor.
The truth is that you are responsible for feeling trapped as you have not acknowledged the choice you have made. It is OK for you to choose to stay in an unhappy marriage to protect someone or something. I knew someone who decided to stay in a loveless marriage because they feared a divorce would mean that they would lose their garden.
If you visualise getting to the end of your life, and still feeling that staying was the best thing you could have done, then do stay. What we are recommending is that you acknowledge your intentions and choices, so that you feel more in control.
Who and what are you living your life for? will you regret this?
Be true to yourself
The reason that you hear this line so often is because it contains a truth which is so fundamental to happiness. If you are feeling trapped, or that life is long and difficult, these are major signs that you are living a life which is not satisfactory to you in some fundamental way.
If you could live your life as you would like to, what would you be doing? How would you be?
Nothing is more soul crushing than living a life according to someone else’s values.
You have one life, how will you choose to live it?
Dr Isabelle Hung is a co-founder of divorceclub.com and a clinical psychologist. Having got through her own divorce, she is now remarried and happy to report that divorce really is an opportunity for growth and positive change.